There should be no surprises in an appraisal. If there is a good line management structure, regular one-toones should allow for positive encouragement but also challenge on areas that are falling short before problems expand into something far more difficult to tackle.
The appraisal should be a review of the past year (or time-frame of focus), consolidated into some clear achievements and identification of areas for development that both parties knew were there.
The appraisal is also about focusing the appraisee on goals in line with the leader’s and team’s strategy.
A lack of regular quality appraisals will lead to staff being unclear as to how to do their job.
One of the big differences between regular one-to-ones and appraisals is that, in the appraisal, the appraisee has the opportunity to reflect and offer an opinion on their performance and this can be objectified and discussed.
The appraisal then provides a safe environment where each party has permission to speak frankly regarding performance and feedback and, as part of this safety, there is mutual agreement to be honest and maintain confidentiality within the environment.
The conversation should be focused on the individual, supporting change through feedback, planning for development and providing support to achieve objectives that contribute to a vision/strategy.
In terms of the appraiser's ability to appraise components in an individual’s role that they do not possess themselves, the key is the appraiser’s preparation and the fact that an appraisal should be in part about developing the partnership between appraiser and appraisee.
The appraiser should already know how the appraisee is performing from the network they have with the appraisee’s peers.
If necessary, they should gather specific opinion and views from the appraisee's peers and use these in an anonymised way to have an appraisal conversation with the appraisee; these conversations can difficult sometimes, but if the background work is done the conversation should be constructive and enable reflection on the comments provided.
Preparation and structure is important. A number of templates are available to guide and document these conversations; however, these should not take away from the fact that it is important for a safe and constructive conversation to occur where both parties give each other permission to be honest.
Paperwork and a huge list of appraisal questions can often put managers and staff off completing the appraisal; if this hurdle is overcome and the appraisal takes place the paperwork and questions can then still stifle free conversation.
I always advise my team that the honest conversation is the most important thing and that the appraisee is given the opportunity, space and time to provide an honest account of their progress, reflections and future needs to achieve their objectives.
When asked, many people will say that they find appraisals are not very helpful at best, and very stressful at worst.
Even though the organisation may say that performance appraisals are important it is often sadly evident that they do not take them very seriously.
However, all that said, appraisals do have real value as they provide both the manager and staff member with allotted time to explore where an individual may want to go with their career, alongside an understanding what the options for that may be and how activities undertaken are aligned to organisational priorities.
For the member of staff being appraised it is important that they prepare - whether your manager is prepared or not, you must be ready.
To do this you should gather together relevant information, particularly anything that meets a specific objective or project that you were set.
It is also important to identify any stumbling blocks that have caused you issues.
For the manager carrying out the appraisal it can be very useful to ask the staff member to reflect and give feedback on their own performance.
This will give some insight as to how the person views their own performance, which can then be gauged against your own assessment.
This can also provide the opportunity to open up areas for discussion that may have been harder if you were to raise them yourself.
If there are areas that need improvement, encourage the staff member to come up with what they think are potential solutions.
Listen without arguing or defending your point of view and be prepared to adjust your views, if appropriate.
To avoid any miscommunication it is important to seek confirmation back from the employee, during the appraisal meeting, that they understand any performance issues highlighted; make sure they agree with your version of the discussion.
For both the manager and staff member, just because you have completed a formal appraisal doesn’t mean you can ignore performance for the rest of the year.
It is good practice to keep in contact and to discuss progress with against any goals you both set and to provide/seek support when required.
This can be as simple as a catch-up chat with no documentation - which should mean that the next appraisal contain no surprises.